The definitive history of the Kirtland Camp is to be found in The History of the Church with additional details and color provided in the personal histories and reminisences of various participants, some of which can be readily found with an on-line search.
Nevertheless, we will attempt a greatly encapsulated history here. In 1836 the nation was undergoing a boom, one of a series of economic booms and busts that continued for decades. Economists may argue, but the saints in Kirtland were enjoying the benefits of those good years, except for one factor... they lacked monetary reserves. They were producing goods, but lacked cash with which to make purchases and payments. Trade was stagnant. Many thought that they needed a bank in Kirtland to provide the needed currency.
The Prophet Joseph Smith warned against speculative investments but it was decided to form a bank. Their failure to secure a bank charter from the state might have served as a warning, but the populace was determined and ultimately formed the "Kirtland Anti-Banking Safety Society."
If 1836 was a good year, it would be the last good year for a time. Then came the "Panic of 1837." Banks and financial institutions across the entire nation were crushed when withdrawals exceeded cash reserves. The Kirtland Safety Society might have survived as it was initially on a sound footing. But some of its officers and employees displayed initially a "me first" attitude, and as the reserves became depleted, actually began to loot the remaining funds, stealing many thousands of dollars. The Society collapsed into utter ruin.
Then came the finger-pointing and the name calling. Those who had partaken of the spirit of selfishness and dishonesty sought to blame The Prophet. The Church and the entire community was riven by dissent. Joseph and Hyrum Smith and Sidney Rigdon were forced to flee Kirtland for their lives in The Great Apostasy of 1837-1838. A few remained faithful but these were destitute and persecuted by their former friends and co-religionists. These apostates drove and threatened the faithful few but would not allow them to leave town. Even the temple was taken by armed violence. To this day the Church has never recovered the property.
We will now go to excerpts of the words of John Pulsipher as he recounts his observations and experiences leading up to and traveling with the Kirtland Camp. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization are Brother Pulsipher's.
The church in Kirtland was now broken up and the poorest of the poor were left, because they could not get away. Only about ten teams were all that was in the possession of the whole of them between five and six hundred persons, but they all covenanted that they would go together or stay together.
This was in the spring of 1838. The presidents of the Seventy took the lead of business.
They advised every man that could work to go into the country and work a few months, for horses, cattle, wagons, harnesses, money, store pay, etc., which they did. They worked and prayed and the Lord worked with them. Signs and wonders were seen and heard which caused the Saints to rejoice.
The power of the Lord was manifested in various ways. Angels were seen in meetings who spoke comforting words, that inasmuch as we would be faithful the Lord would help us and we should be delivered from our enemies.
In June the company met, brought in their property which had been earned and behold they had means sufficient to move all the Saints from Kirtland. The company was organized with James Foster, Zerah Pulsipher, Joseph Young, Henry Harriman, Josiah Butterfield, Benjamin Willer and Elias Smith at the head as counsellors, to lead the camp.
On the 6th of July at noon the camp started all in order. The company consisted of 515 souls--249 males, 266 females, 27 tents, 59 wagons, 97 horses, 22 oxen, 69 cows and one bull. Jonathan Dunham was the Engineer and Jonathan H. Hale was the commissary. The business of the engineer was to go thru the rich settlements and towns where he could buy provisions cheap and bring a wagon load to the camp each night. The rations were given out once a day to the several families according to their number; he that gave in money and he that had none to give, all fared alike. There was a regular order in starting; the bugle was sounded for all to rise in the morning at the same time; also to tend prayers and eat breakfast at a certain time and all started together and every wagon kept in its place.
Our enemies had threatened never to let us go out of Kirtland two wagons together, but when we got ready to start, the largest company of Saints that had ever traveled together in this generation started out in good order without an enemy to oppose us. We traveled along in fine order and after a few hundred miles we got out of money and stopped and worked about a month at Dayton, Ohio, and got means to pay our way thru to Missouri.
We again pursued our journey, sometimes the weather was good and sometimes bad. Sometimes our tents would blow over in the rain storms in the night when all within--beds, people and all--would get as wet as drowned mice, but we could sleep in wet beds and not get sick by it. The people in the towns, cities and country thru which we passed looked and gazed at us as we passed along. Sometimes they tried to stop us. Once they threw eggs at us just because we were Mormons. (Here ends Brother Pulsipher's narrative.)
Near the beginning of the Camp's travels, they were indeed stopped and several of their leaders arrested. However, they were not found guilty. Instead they were released the following day and were shortly able to catch up with the Camp.
Eventually, after much traveling and many travails, the Kirtland Camp arrived in Far West, Missouri, where they "were received with joyful salutations by the brethren in that city." A few days later, the Camp removed to Adam-Ondi-Ahman. Their entire journey measured 860 miles.
Unfortunately, the peace they sought was not to be found, for the Missouri persecutions were in full swing and the contemptible and despicable Governor Lilburn Boggs' infamous and thoroughly reprehensible "Extermination Order" was shortly issued. The refugees from Kirtland now became the refugees from Missouri.
Elder Brigham H. Roberts said of the Kirtland Camp, "Perhaps the greatest work achieved by the First Council of the Seventies in their organized capacity, was the organization of the Kirtland Camp, and leading it from Kirtland, Ohio, to Adam-ondi-Ahman, Missouri."
We will note that despite a quasi-military organization, the purpose of the Kirtland Camp was not for any military or combative purpose but to remove a driven and persecuted people, including women and children, to a place where they hoped to find peace and liberty. That they failed to do so in no way detracts from the bravery and the faithfulness of those who made the journey.